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Criminal Justice

Brutal Beating, Death Inside Twin Towers Jail Cost LA County $11.5M

A bus marked COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT enters a driveway at a multistory building with no windows that houses a correctional facility.
Twin Towers Correctional Facilities.
(David McNew
Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to pay a total of $11.5 million to settle two lawsuits that alleged negligent care at the Twin Towers jail.

LA County To Pay Out $11.5M In Settlements Over Alleged Negligent Care At Jail

The board agreed to pay $7 million to settle a suit brought by the family of 67-year-old Wesley Alarcio, who was beaten so severely in his cell that he was left in a permanent vegetative state. It’s one of the largest payouts ever involving misconduct inside L.A. County jails.

The second settlement will pay $4.5 million to the family of Randall J. Carrier, III, who died behind bars after allegedly failing to receive proper medical treatment for severe asthma.

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Left Alone With A Violent Predator

Alarcio, diagnosed with severe emotional and mental disorders, was never supposed to be inside a jail cell with Kyler Austin Gray, a known violent predator who also has mental illness, according to the suit filed by Alarcio’s wife and daughter.

The result was the 2018 brutal beating of Alarcio by Gray, according to the suit.

Described in the lawsuit as a “feeble elderly man who suffered from severe psychosis,” Wesley was initially placed in Twin Towers’ High Observation Housing unit. But later he was placed in a Mental Health Moderate Observation unit, “where violent inmates, like Kyler Austin Grey, were known to prey on vulnerable, mentally ill inmates,” it said.

Over several weeks, the lawsuit cites the jail’s own records as evidence Alarcio didn’t belong in the Moderate Observation unit. It said dozens of entries in his file documented “rambling speech, odd behavior, bizarre behavior, active psychosis, spitting at fellow inmates, disheveled appearance, suicidal ideations, delusions, decompensating behavior, flooding of cell, lying on cell floor naked, soaked in urine, altered mental status, worsening mental status.”

In their suit Alarcio’s wife and daughter, who became his legal guardian after the attack, allege officials knew there was “a great indifference to the safety and protection of inmates, particularly mentally ill and vulnerable inmates … who were susceptible to being preyed upon by violent predatory inmates.”

‘Deliberate Indifference’ To Medical Needs

The lawsuit filed by Carrier’s family said when the 20-year-old had been arrested in 2017 on misdemeanor charges, he told jail staff that he had “chronic asthma and that he treated it with an albuterol inhaler.” About four days after his Feb. 10 intake, he told them he believed he had a respiratory infection, but a nurse charted it as a “common cold,” according to the suit.

Carrier’s condition became increasingly worse and he “pleaded for medical assistance,” it said.

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About a month after entering jail, Carrier “complained repeatedly to floor deputies and to medical staff that he needed his inhaler and that he was slowly suffocating due to his increasing lung congestion,” the lawsuit said.

None was provided. Carrier died of status asthmaticus March 17 after suffering an asthma attack and collapsing outside his cell.

The suit blamed his “tragic, unnecessary death” on the county’s and the Sheriff’s Department’s “policies, customs and practices of deliberate indifference to the medical needs of jail inmates, and of general deliberate indifference to the well being of people in jail.”

It alleged those policies “include, but are not limited to, a general reluctance to provide inmates necessary urgent care and hospitalization, a pattern and practice of consciously disregarding their serious medical needs, and, in relation to asthmatics, the failure to provide inhalers and other life-sustaining therapies.”

The two incidents occurred during the administration of former Sheriff Jim McDonnell. The county admitted no wrongdoing in both settlements.

County lawyers often provide recommended “corrective action” in their settlement memos to the Board of Supervisors. None was provided in these two. A spokesperson for the county could not explain why.

The lawsuits and resulting large payouts shed light on incidents that happened several years ago, but reflect ongoing problems inside Twin Towers, which houses more than one-third of the county’s 13,000 incarcerated people. Almost all of those with mental illnesses are held at the Chinatown facility.

A Dysfunctional, Abusive Environment

An LAist investigation last month found some current and former medical staff members describe a working environment that is dysfunctional, abusive and detrimental to providing health care. One county health care worker called the situation in the jails a daily “human rights disaster.”

A federal monitor’s report issued in January said Men’s Central Jail, which sits adjacent to Twin Towers, was overflowing with garbage and filth on the walls.

In 2015, the county signed an agreement promising to improve medical care and reduce the use of force — particularly against incarcerated people with mental illnesses. A judge said the county remains far from compliant and has given it until 2024 to fall into line.

The jail’s population of people who have mental illnesses has exploded over the past decade. In 2012, it was 3,067. Today, it's 5,495, or 42% of the population.

In 2012, the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence issued a report detailing a pattern and practice of deputy violence against incarcerated people, including the existence of two deputy gangs inside the jails known as the 2000 Boys and the 3000 Boys.

At a public hearing on deputy gangs last week, the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission heard from its chief investigator that one department insider says the 3000 Boys, once thought to have gone dormant, has returned.

Earlier this year, we reported on another problem inside Twin Towers —that sheriff’s deputies regularly ignored COVID-19 safety protocols and have allegedly discouraged detainees from getting vaccinated.

A Third Settlement — Over A Shooting

In a third settlement approved Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of a man who was in a mental health crisiswhen he was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy in 2019.

Deputies found Alvaro Venegas, 35, on his hands and knees, mumbling unintelligibly, outside an urgent care center in Santa Clarita, according to the lawsuit by his family, which described him as schizophrenic.

He fought with deputies, striking one in the face with a 16-inch wooden stake. When he raised the stake over his head, one of the deputies shot him in the chest, said the suit, which accused deputies of failing to use proper tactics.

“The sheriff’s deputies who contacted him during the underlying incident had ample time to evaluate his circumstances, concluded that he needed medical attention, failed to summon such medical attention, and instead shot and killed him without justification or cause,” the lawsuit stated. It called the shooting “absolutely unjustified … a senseless and unwarranted act of police abuse.”

A memo by county lawyers said deputies should have requested a Mental Evaluation Team — which includes a deputy and an unarmed clinician — before trying to detain Venegas.

This story was updated on June 15 to note that the two incidents in the jail occurred during the McDonnell administration.

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